Canucks: Jake Virtanen’s rise to being a goal-scoring winger

Vancouver Canucks (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)"n
Vancouver Canucks (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)"n /

It’s been a slow and sometimes painful process for the Vancouver Canucks, but Jake Virtanen hit his stride this year rising to become an exceptional goal-scorer.

The initial feeling surrounding Jake Virtanen coming into this season was that his playing days for the Vancouver Canucks were quite possibly numbered. He wasn’t panning out to be the player that they drafted him to be. But that was all before his breakout season finally unfolded this year.

Rewinding all the way back to 2014 when all Virtanen was was a whisper on the tongue of Canucks fans, Benning wasn’t skipping on the local kid from New Westminster, BC. As the newly-crowned Canucks GM, that just wasn’t a risk worth taking. The fans would love the faith in his hometown selection and the scouting report on Virtanen perfectly fit the bill of the “meat and potatoes” style the Canucks were trying to embrace.

Despite the fact that the combination of his size, strength and speed was enough to get him into the show after his first training camp, Virtanen struggled in year one and continued to struggle as the years went on. He slowly grew into the power forward he was expected to be, but consistency in his game was hard to come by.

A handful of seasons passed and change had become inevitable for the Canucks. Jim Benning started showing signs that he was losing faith in his first-ever draft selection as Canucks’ GM. The proof of the matter quite clear in the signing of Micheal Ferland. A four-year deal for a guy whose playing style mirrors Virtanen’s seemed like the final wake-up call.

The message was received loud and clear. Not missing any of the 69 games played this year, Virtanen put up a respectable 36 points (18 goals and 18 assists) and for the first time in his career, his posted stats were over half a point per game (0.521).

Virtanen was a sponge this season learning anything and everything in order to improve his game. He became a valuable tool that was worth inserted up or down the lines. His combination of skills turned him into the perfect “floater” if you will, and despite the fact that he never had consistent linemates this year, his overall game was consistent.

That consistency grew confidence from Travis Green as the season pushed forward and one game after another, slowly Virtanen became a consistent and reliable goal-scorer. 2020 began and that’s where Virtanen started to see playing time next to Elias Pettersson and J.T. Miller.

His goal total began to rise and he was awarded time on PP2. Despite only seeing a total of 61 minutes of ice-time on the man-advantage for the entire 2019-20 season (compared to Pettersson’s 261 minutes), Virtanen’s six PPG’s were enough for 4th amongst all Canucks.

Ice time with Miller was a ginormous bonus for Jake in the back half of the season as well. Without Ferland around to show him the ropes, Virtanen was actually able to learn a lot from the team’s leading scorer. He was on TSN1040 and had a lot of good things to say about the kid. You can listen to it here.

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He may not have a 20-goal season under his belt just yet, but if it weren’t for the NHL pause he sure would have. Despite all that, Virtanen is now entering his prime years and should be a lock to hit 20 next season.